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5 Food Poisoning Travel Devils!

Every traveller at some time or another has had to endure a case of food poisoning or ‘Delhi Belly’. When our time comes, we just pray it unleashes when we’re staying in some magnificent hotel, with a recently cleaned marble bathroom floor, air-conditioning with both hot and cooling settings, room service. Not to mention a toilet bowl in close proximity to the sink in case it comes out both ends simultaneously.

Of course food poisoning is an indiscriminate beast with absolutely no consideration for our whereabouts. The only real mercy the sickness extends is allowing us time to finish our meal, the same dish which causes such an affliction before revealing itself. Damn, that it is cold, I mean really cold!

How would you like a sandwich now?
How would you like a sandwich now?

Travellers Food Poisoning

There are loads of backstreet urban cures for food poisoning, some ridiculous, some just annoying and others I would happily sell my soul for at my lowest.

Starving my body won’t work – at some point I will need food and when my stomach allows me to swallow without reversing the process, that’s what will happen
No more plain white rice – please bring me anything except plain white rice. I realise this is the best thing for me but it’s so dry and hard to swallow. Have you tried to eat a meal of just plain rice yourself? It’s not pleasant and when you’re ill it’s probably the least appetising meal on the planet!
Please no more flat coca cola – I know it’s helping and tastes good but I’m tired of black coloured vomit and I think it’s actually burning my throat. I prefer flat lemonade, it’s sweet and easy to drink.
No more bananas – Please no more, I literally cannot face another banana and I don’t care how small you cut up the pieces
Does anyone have any luxury 3 ply toilet paper? – Seriously I don’t mean to sound crass but the Johnny Cash song ‘Ring of Fire’ has a totally new meaning – for the love of god does anyone have some decent 3 ply toilet paper and not a sandpaper derivative?
Move my bed to the bathroom – Please can you make my bed up on the bathroom floor, it will just save time in the long run.
Don’t judge – At some point over the next 72 hours you will probably see my bare bum and I may shit myself for good measure! I don’t want to end up on Twitter or Facebook with my arms wrapped around the porcelain goddess. I will remember and should the slipper ever be on the other foot Cinderella, you should fear reprisals!

The dreaded cramps!
The dreaded cramps!

It’s a rare day when we’re in the ideal setting for a good old fashioned dose of food poisoning and as I reflect on the places I have been struck down, they are far from a backpacker’s utopia. Before I invoke devils from the past, let me say this – I believe it’s an initiation all travellers must endure, a rite of passage if you will. It doesn’t teach us anything, it just makes for a funny story on those long bus journeys or at the pub talking about the time you shat yourself. At least you can laugh about it now right?

Here are my most unpleasant Five:

China – There’s really nothing more empowering than surviving an overnight hard-sleeper train journey in China, having spent 10 hours slumped over a squat toilet – let me paint you a picture. I was leading adventure tours in China and on an overnight train from Beijing to Xi’an after feasting on a particularly delicious Peking duck meal. The lights automatically switched off at 22:00 which is when I felt the first rumble in pit of my stomach.

I spent the night navigating the rattling corridor to and from the squat bathroom, clinging on for dear life as the train flew across the tracks. In the world of toilets, the squat has never had a great reputation and whilst it functions as expected in times of crises, it is an altogether unpleasant experience. Ten hours is like a death sentence and I couldn’t get off that train quick enough in the morning. Covered in sweat, doubled over with cramps and white as a sheet from lack of sleep and any source of internal liquid, we rolled into Xi’an for our tour of the Terracotta Warriors. It was one of those times I wanted the ground to swallow me whole, and the day had only just begun!

Morocco – Three mates and I bought a campervan and were driving across Europe; being so close to Morocco we thought it would be rude not to visit so we caught the ferry over to Tangiers and ascended the Atlas Mountains. The old Bedford petrol van had a fold out bed at floor level and two fold out single beds on the top and was fairly fiddly to jump in and out of the single bed, climb over the two sleeping below, wind down the window and climb out (we chained the doors at night for safety) to use the bathroom. It sounds ridiculous to chain the doors now but at the time it made sense, why? Because we were young!

And then it happened, it was dark, I was on the top bunk, my stomach was churning like a washing machine and cramping. I needed the bathroom which I knew was about 4 minutes’ walk across the campsite. Up and down, in and out of that bloody window I was all night long. Streaking across the campsite dressed only in my boxers en route to the squat (obviously) toilet, sweating from every orifice, freezing and generally feeling very sorry for myself. It was probably my most unpleasant food poisoning experience to date.

It really isn't pretty!
It really isn’t pretty!

Egypt – I was leading adventure tours in Egypt and developed food poisoning before the tour had even begun which lasted the duration of the 8 day trip. My lowest point was in Luxor when we were crossed over to the West Bank for the one hour donkey ride to the Valley of the Kings. Seriously, are you joking? Donkey riding with a dodgy stomach on the planets most stupid animal – I had to laugh. Twice I leaped off mid-motion and darted into the bushes to drop my pants, surrounded my corn fields. By the time I arrived the site I handed my group over to the Egyptologist and just lay down in the sand in the shade. Sometimes even a tour leader can’t slap a smile on his face!

India – I know what you’re expecting from India…dysentery, hospitalisation or worse? Actually I have to admit this is one of those times I was actually staying in complete luxury. Yes marble flooring and toilet paper that felt like it had been had woven from silk by the angels. You think I’m joking but it was actually the perfect place to get sick and after one tough night’s sleep, I was cured! I have mango lassies and 5 star service to thanks for this!

Colombia – The story I am about to tell you is my personal low point. I was on a short 8 day tour of Northern Colombia in an area called La Guajira (which for the record is stunning). Sand dunes, ocean, jungle, rivers and simple villages filled our days and at night we slept in hammocks – all was perfect with the world. We were scheduled to kayak amongst pink flamingos in the early hours of the morning until the vomiting and diarrhoea commenced. Of course in the perfect world I would be allowed to lie in bed a lick my wounds (actually that sounds unbelievably gross), but I had a business trade show to attend and 15 meetings a day – oh joy. And here is the bad part, it wasn’t until the last day when I was at the airport that I realised I had a huge brown stain at the back of my jeans and no option to change trousers. So I flew from Bogota to Madrid and finally London, with the mark of Cain on my backside.

Pass me the spade please and I’ll just dig my own hole!

Food Poisoning




  1. March 4, 2015 / 3:45 pm

    Oh, Iain!!! I feel your pain!!! Great stories though, thanks for sharing!! I’ll never look at you in the same way again, of course! 🙂

    • March 5, 2015 / 3:46 am

      Hayley when I read your update about the dreaded food poisoning, it took me back to darker times 🙂 Good to see you smiling through it all as usual, and that you survived Delhi Belly with an electrical shock chaser!

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